Isaiah and Nietzche, pt. II

What would these two prophets say to each other?

Both would agree on the weaknesses and faults in mankind – Isaiah, however, would recognize that man is not alone. Isaiah, with the penetrating insight of a true prophet, would recognize Nietzsche’s rebellion against God as a sign not of hatred of God or the idea of God but of his hunger for God.

‘Atheism, true ‘existential’ atheism burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God, is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God.… Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ.’

– Fr. Seraphim Rose

Both would agree that without God, mankind has, can, and will sink to deplorable depths. The difference here is that Isaiah knows that God is not just an idea, a set of cultural values or a principle from which to derive morality that humanity no longer has need of, but rather the Living God who is calling for His people to return to Him.

Mankind may attempt to kill Him, as Nietzsche believes they have done, but Isaiah knows in a way Nietzsche does not that it doesn’t matter if humanity thinks they have killed God – God will not suffer defeat.

Pascal on Thought and the Universe

‘Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.’
― Blaise Pascal

‘Through space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; through thought I comprehend the world.’
– Blaise Pascal

Kierkegaard on Love

‘What is it that makes a person great, admirable among creatures, and well pleasing in God’s eye? What is it that makes a person strong, stronger than the whole world, or so weak as to be weaker than a child? What is it that makes a person firm, firmer than a cliff, or yet so soft as to be softer than wax? It is love. What is older than everything? It is love. What outlives everything? It is love. What is it that cannot be taken away but itself gives it all? It is love. What is it that cannot be given but itself gives everything? It is love. What is it that stands fast when everything falters? It is love. What is it that comforts when other comforts fail? It is love. What is it that remains when everything is changed? It is love. What is it that abides when what is imperfect is done away with? It is love. What is it that bears witness when prophecy is dumb? It is love. What is it that does not cease when visions come to an end? It is love. What is it that makes everything clear when the dark saying has been spoken? It is love. What is it that bestows a blessing on the excess of the gift? It is love. What is it that gives pith to an angels speech? It is love. What is it that makes the widows mite more than enough? It is love. What is it that makes the speech of the simple person wise? It is love. What is it that never alters, even if all things alter? It is love. (Soren Kierkegaard, ‘Spiritual Writings’, p. 227-228)

Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, with Stephen Law.

Here Alvin Plantinga presents and defends his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism with/against Stephen Law, himself not a theist. A fascinating argument and a fascinating discussion well worth your time.

Roughly speaking, the EAAN has its roots in C.S. Lewis’s book ‘Miracles’ where he states that naturalism undercuts its own justification. Plantinga has developed it into a fairly formidable argument.

‘Naturalistic evolution gives its adherents a reason for doubting that our beliefs are mostly true; perhaps they are mostly mistaken; for the very reason for mistrusting our cognitive facultiesgenerally, will be a reason for mistrusting the faculties that produce belief in the goodness of the argument.’

– Alvin Plantinga – taken from – an outline of a lecture Plantinga gave on the argument. Again, well worth reading. It’s fairly technical but provides good context for the argument.

Christianity and Antiquity

‘For indeed Christianity was complicit in the death of antiquity, and in the birth of modernity, not because it was an accomplice of the latter, but because it, alone in the history of the West, constituted a rejection of and alternative to nihilism’s despair, violence, and idolatry of power; as such, Christianity shattered the imposing and enchanting facade behind which nihilism once hid, and thereby, inadvertently, called it forth into the open.’
― David Bentley Hart

Thoughts on Pascal

I really do think Pascal is one of the brightest thinkers in the Christian tradition. I’ve not seen too many other apologists who tackle big problems head on like Pascal – for instance, the hiddeness of God (see the ‘Pascal’ category for my thoughts on his famous wager). I think that if Pascal’s style of thinking were taken more seriously, Christianity might be in a better place.

Here, at least, what we call “god” is needed pt. II

‘The fatal mistake of the Church was trying to ‘prove to a world come of age that it cannot live without the tutelage of “God” ‘ . The inability to maintain this in the face of the world’s autonomy leads to the ‘ultimate questions’, where God now takes refuge. Here at least he is needed.

At this comes Bonoheffers most quoted question, a rhetorical one: ‘But what if one day they [i.e. these ultimate questions] no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered without “God”?  (‘Christ the Center’, p. 12-13)

Where does this leave Christianity? The more I think about it, the less I can avoid the thought that this is the cold, hard truth – that the ‘ultimate questions’ are the last bastion that God has in the world.

This thought prompts this question: if this is in fact the case, what is Christianity supposed to be?  Another question: how did Christianity arrive at the state it did?

Briefly, a glance at the New Testament seems to show that the very early church wasn’t terribly interested in providing the answers to ultimate questions – it proclaims a very simple, but very powerful idea: that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the Messiah as foretold by the Prophets, who was crucified, buried and resurrected, and in doing so broke the powers of sin and death over creation and opened up the divine nature for us to partake of.

In a nutshell, that’s about it. There certainly are questions that are answered – but so far as I can tell the early church did not see it’s message as an answer to ultimate questions that the natural world was incapable of answering.

Where does this leave us, and me? I don’t know. I think, however, that Christianity as a whole needs to be re-thought if its going to survive in this world come of age.

Here, at least, what we call “god” is needed.

I was struck once again by the profundity of Bonhoeffer’s thought in his analysis of the state of the world and the Church. This small portion from the preface of ‘Christ the Center’ really stood out to me:

‘In a historical preamble he traces the impact of the Renaissance – giving the thirteenth century as his estimated date when this movement towards the autonomy of man had reached a measure of completeness. Since then, he claims, ‘Man has learnt to cope with all the questions of importance without recourse to God as a working hypothesis.’ And so, ‘what we call “God” is being more and more edged out of life.’ The world becomes sure of itself and the Church gets more and more frightened. Then it makes the mistake of trying to bring in God and Christ to counter this trend. That makes the movement towards autonomy anti-Christian. The fatal mistake of the Church was trying to ‘prove to a world come of age that it cannot live without the tutelage of “God” ‘ . The inability to maintain this in the face of the world’s autonomy leads to the ‘ultimate questions’, where God now takes refuge. Here at least he is needed.

At this comes Bonoheffers most quoted question, a rhetorical one: ‘But what if one day they [i.e. these ultimate questions] no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered without “God”?  Bonhoeffer shrewdly points out that secular equivalents to religion play the same game. These are the existentialist philosophers and the psychiatrists who ‘demonstrate to secure, contented, happy mankind that he is really unhappy and desperate and merely unwilling to realize that he is in severe straits he knows nothing at all about, from which they alone can rescue him’. This is held up to ridicule, in order to attack even more vehemently the Christian apologetics that take the same line.  The failure is ascribed by Bonhoeffer to a misunderstanding of Christ. The central question for him concerns the relation of Christ to the newly matured world. (‘Christ the Center’, p. 12-13)

Bonhoeffer sharply points out the problem with positing God as an answer to our ‘ultimate questions’, questions that have long been seen as answerable only by Christianity, or at least some kind of theism. A god-of-the-gaps theology, no matter how big and profound the gaps, is a weak one.

The title of the quoted work carries part of Bonhoeffer’s answer to the problem: he does not assign Christ a place in the world – Christ is the center of all reality and history and existence; this is the foundation of his ethical and theological thought. We find our place in Christ – Christ does not find His place in us. Christ is not assigned a place in our lives by us – our lives are assigned a place in Christ by Christ. This is where Christianity needs to go – instead of trying to diagnose content people as sick only unable to see it and claiming the only true antidote.

‘But what if one day they [i.e. these ultimate questions] no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered without “God”?

God’s Voice

‎’Gods voice is not to be mistaken. When men hear it they fall to their knees and their souls are riven and they cry out to Him and there is no fear in them but only that wildness of heart that springs from such longing and they cry out to stay his presence for they know at once that while godless men may live well enough in their exile those to whom He has spoken can contemplate no life without Him but only darkness and despair.’
-Cormac McCarthy (‘The Crossing’)

‘Divine Victory,’ by David Bently Hart

‘We Christians are not obliged (and perhaps not even allowed) to look upon the devastation of that day – to look, that is, upon the entire littoral rim of the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal and upper Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children – and to attempt to console ourselves or others with vacuous cant about the ultimate meaning or purpose residing in all that misery. Our religion, after all, is a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces – whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance – that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. And we are not only permitted but required to believe that cosmic time as we know it, through all the immensity of its geological ages and historical epochs, is only a shadow of true time, and this world only a shadow of the richer, more substantial, more glorious creation that God intends; and to believe also that all of nature is a shattered mirror of divine beauty, still full of light, but riven by darkness.  That ours is a fallen world is not, of course, a truth demonstrable to those who do not believe: it is not a first principle of faith, but rather something revealed to us only by what we know of Christ, in the light cast back from His saving action in history upon the whole of time. The fall of rational creation and the subjection of the cosmos to death is something that appears to us nowhere within the unbroken time of nature or history; we cannot search it out within the closed continuum of the wounded world; it belongs to another frame of time, another  kind of time, one more real than the time of death.

When, however, we learn in Christ the nature of our first estate, and the divine destiny to which we are called, we begin to see – more clearly the more we are able to look at the world with the eye of charity – that there is in all the things of earth a hidden glory waiting to be revealed, more radiant than a million suns, more beautiful than the most generous imagination or ardent desire can now conceive. Or rather, it is a glory not entirely hidden: veiled, rather, but shining in and through and upon all things. The imperishable goodness of all being does in fact show itself in all that it is. It shows itself in the vast waters of the Indian Ocean, and it is not hard to see when those waters are silver and azure under the midday sky, or gold and indigo in the light of the setting sun, or jet and pearl in the light of the moon, and when their smoothly surging tides break upon the shore and harmlessly recede. But it is still there even when – the doors of the sea having broken their seals – those waters become suddenly dull and opaque with grey or sallow silt and rise up to destroy and kill without will or thought or purpose or mercy. At such times, to see the goodness indwelling all creation requires a labor of vision that only faith in Easter can sustain; but it is there, effulgent, unfading, innocent, but languishing in bondage to corruption, groaning in anticipation of a glory yet to be revealed, both as a promise of the Kingdom yet to come and a portent of its beauty.

Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness, life and death grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be until the end of days. As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of His enemy. Such a faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give him peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his arguments can defeat; for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead. Now we are able to rejoice that we are not saved through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetter in which creation languishes; and, that rather showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in darkness were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

– David Bently Hart (‘The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?” pp101-104.)